4.5 Student Complaints

The institution has adequate procedures for addressing written student complaints and is responsible for demonstrating that it follows those procedures when resolving student complaints.

Judgment of Compliance

PVAMU SACS Accreditation - Judgement Compliance

Narrative of Compliance

Prairie View A&M University employs adequate procedures to address written student complaints and follows those guidelines to resolve said complaints, whether they involve customer service; course grades; other academic issues such as student enrollment status, credit, financial aid and fiscal holds; student conduct; discrimination; or parking. As discussed in the responses to Core Requirement 2.10 and Comprehensive Standard 3.9.1, clear and detailed processes for addressing grievances are disseminated in the Student Handbook and Conduct Code, on the university website, and in some cases, through course syllabi.

Complaints about Course Grades
Procedures in place for complaints about grading and course-related issues require written documentation for several steps [1]. If speaking with the instructor does not resolve the problem, students then present written explanations and documentation of their complaints to the instructor's supervisor; after this, the grievance can go to a faculty appeals panel, the appropriate dean, and up to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs if they feel the complaint has not been resolved satisfactorily.

Most complaints are handled at the departmental level. An example of the level of documentation involved in adhering to this process comes from a complaint about a final course grade initiated in the Department of Languages and Communications and resolved by a faculty appeals panel, who reviewed and re-graded the student's work in its decision that the grade should stand [2]. The review was completed in under a month.

Two additional examples come from the College of Business, from a graduate student who failed a course and an undergraduate student who received a "D" for the semester. Both use the standard Student Grade Appeal Form for the College, which requires a signature from the instructor acknowledging whether or not the dispute has been resolved. The Dean of the College, along with a faculty panel of three, reviewed the statements from the students and the instructors and decided in both cases that the original grades should stand [3]. While the form cautions that the process may take up to 30 days, the first was resolved approximately two weeks after receipt and the second a week after the Dean received the complaint.

Complaints about Other Academic Issues
When students have issues with their course schedules or their enrollment at the university that they cannot resolve with the appropriate department, the Office of Academic Affairs sometimes intervenes. It receives requests for conferences, using a two-page intake form that asks for a brief description of the issue and steps the student has taken to resolve the complaint. As the attached summary indicates, most complaints are related to financial issues (expunging debt, reinstatement) or registration (late add, late drop, late registration) [4].

Two examples, of the resolution of a reinstatement complaint where a student's class schedule was restored [5] and of a course credit disagreement that was preventing a student from graduating [6] are available for review.

While some complaints of this nature proceed through the Office for Academic Affairs, others are addressed to the University Registrar and/or Director of Student Financial Aid. Resolution of these grievances tends to involve individuals from multiple administrative units. More and more often, complaints come via e-mail, and to provide good customer service, university personnel try to handle students' concerns via that medium. The included example represents a complaint about academic suspension that went through the Registrar, Provost, and Director of Student Financial Aid before a satisfactory possible resolution was reached for the student [7].

Complaints Regarding Student Conduct
Students who engage in any of the 27 defined types of prohibited conduct [8] in the Student Conduct Code are subject to report, a disciplinary hearing, and possible sanctions if found in violation. Prairie View takes such incident reports very seriously, with a dedicated Student Conduct Officer tasked to handle all allegations. In a case available for review, a complainant accused a classmate of committing physical abuse (prohibited conduct B). The accused student wrote his account of the events, and after a hearing, was found in violation of the Conduct Code not only for violence but also violating residence hall policies (prohibited conduct T). Sanctions included university probation and mandatory anger management counseling [9].

Those found in violation of the Conduct Code can be given primary and secondary sanctions ranging from verbal warnings to expulsion. Part of the process allows that "A student who has been assessed a disciplinary sanction by the Student Conduct Hearing Board, may file an appeal with the Vice President for Student Affairs and Institutional Relations within five (5) business days after receiving the notice. An appeal must be based upon some specific aspect of the previous hearing, for example unjust punishment or violation of due process" [10]. The appeal must be in writing and temporarily stays the disciplinary ruling, unless the Vice President determines that the student is a threat to the campus and must be removed while the appeal is considered. The Vice President's decision on the appeal is final. An example is included wherein a student appealed a suspension and the Vice President upheld the sanction [11].

Complaints about Discrimination
As mentioned in the response for Comprehensive Standard 3.9.1, student complaints about discriminatory behaviors prohibited under Title VI and Title IX are handled in PVAMU Administrative Procedure 70.17 [12]. Prairie View A&M also follows specific procedures for grievances related to non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) [13]. Information about rights and appeals processes is available in the Student Conduct Code and Handbook, which is distributed online and in print [14]. In both cases, students may file an informal grievance, asking for assistance from the Equal Opportunity Officer or Director of Diagnostic Testing and Disabilities Services in speaking to a faculty member or supervisor, as explained in section 2 of Procedure 70.17. A formal grievance also can be lodged by completing a common complaint form, designed to elicit a specific, targeted narrative from the complainant [15].

Once a formal grievance is made in writing, the Equal Opportunity Officer interviews witnesses and negotiates a resolution between the parties, including a finding of whether or not allegations have been proven. Within 31 days, the Officer now must submit a report to the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, who decides any disciplinary action; prior to Fall 2008, the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs was the senior administrator tasked to this duty. Students can appeal the decision of the investigating officer. More specific procedures have been designed for cases of sexual harassment, including potential methods of resolution, reasons why the university may not proceed with an investigation, and possible disciplinary actions ("written reprimands, reassignment, suspension without pay, and termination of employment") [16].

In 2007, four formal Title IX complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office regarding sexual harassment and racial discrimination [17]. The attached supporting documentation shows the process followed in one of the cases of alleged sexual harassment of a female student by a male faculty member. Within five weeks, the student's charges were investigated and all witnesses and the respondent interviewed by the EEO Officer, who found that both accusations were substantiated. The matter then went to the university Provost, who dismissed the individual for cause [18] Login Key[Restricted Access -- Must Have Internet Connection].

In 2008-2009, four students lodged complaints regarding their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In such cases, the Director of Diagnostic Testing and Disabilities Services reviewed the initial grievance forms, interviewed the students to gather more information, gathered information from the respondent, and negotiated a resolution. Through this procedure, student living quarters were remodeled with more appropriate bathroom facilities, acceptable substitution courses were agreed upon for students with documented learning disabilities, and at the request of a dean, an entire college's faculty underwent sensitivity training to understand students' rights under federal statutes. The attached summary of each case shows the extent to which resolving ADA complaints involves the cooperation of multiple campus constituents [19].

To provide an alternative to the traditional written complaint process, particularly in cases of sexual harassment where individuals might feel uncomfortable coming forward, students have another means of resolving a problem, through the privately contracted EthicsPoint online reporting service provided to the entire Texas A&M University System [20]. The web form report can be done anonymously and asks for as much detail as possible, with items similar to those on the hard copy form used by Prairie View A&M [21]. Links to this service are in the footer attached to every webpage for Prairie View A&M University. A sample report regarding theft shows how complaints are received and followed up [22].

Complaints about Parking
An appeal procedure also is in place for parking citations. Both the process [23] and an online form for appealing parking tickets [24], as well as tips for avoiding citations in the first place, are available to students on the webpage for Parking Management. As an example, a student appealed a parking citation by arguing that he was enrolled in school, had paid for his decal, and had it displayed; he submitted copies of the citation and proof of payment for a parking decal a week earlier. Parking Management approved the appeal "for circumstances beyond [his] error" and removed the fine [25].

Complaints about General Customer Service
Under Section 2114 of the Texas Government Code [26], each state agency must establish a "Compact with Texans" that defines customer service standards that, in this case, students can expect: "the highest degree of ethical behavior including, but not limited to honesty, integrity, accuracy, courtesy and timeliness" [27]. The compact, which is linked in the footer of every page on the university website, also must establish a mechanism for assessing customer satisfaction, including complaints; Prairie View does so through an online Customer Satisfaction Survey. More often, students use the form from Business Affairs [28] to register their questions, comments, and complaints. For instance, a student from Colorado was unable to locate rates for non-resident tuition; she was contacted with links to this information and a contact person if she had further questions [29].

Supporting Documentation and Links

Federal Requirements 4.5

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